The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has come up against several of Marvel Comics’ greatest opponents: from the expert tracker Kraven right through to Planet-Chomping Beskirted OmniDude Galactus. This April, however, she comes up against perhaps the greatest Marvel villain of them all, as none other than Swarm heads into town on a mission to beat her once and for all!
You know Swarm. The guy who’s made of bees… Now you remember. “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #7 also comes with a surprising twist, however — it’s done in the style of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure stories, meaning readers can follow Doreen as she attempts to take Swarm down in several different ways — with victory or failure resting on a turn of the page. Since April’s issue of “Squirrel Girl” lets you “Be the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” CBR News decided to offer the creative team of writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson the chance to complete a choose-your-own interview.
A: want to hear more about the story? Go to question 1!
B: need all the latest Swarm goss? Go to question 6!
C: say “Nuts to this! Tell me about ‘Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe!'” Go to question 12!
1: As a character, Squirrel Girl has always been interested in working her way through a problem in multiple ways. Was that what made you come up with the idea of a Choose Your Own Adventure issue for her?
Ryan North: A lot of the fun of “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” is that “unbeatable” is there in the title, and I was thinking, ‘Hey, what if we showed how that happened?’ And then, since the reader is making the choices, there’s lots of ways you can mess up and become The Extremely Beatable Squirrel Girl.
So this was one way to have fun with that, while also letting readers get (literally) inside the head of Squirrel Girl to see how they’d handle the high-stakes superhero battles that she for some reason gets involved in on the regular.
2: How hard is it for you both to make a story like this, with multiple narrative threads, and make it easy and accessible for the reader?
Erica Henderson: There was a little problem with me figuring out how the arrows and flow would all work but we figured that out after the first page or two and that part was pretty easy once I knew what it was supposed to be. I think the harder part is when the paths start to diverge you have to start creating several distinct spaces within the frame and make it clear that it’s related to path C but not A, B or D, visually. There were also several panels of people running off because they had a good idea or a bad idea and trying to make all those look different is definitely a challenge!
North: A non-linear branching narrative is a tricky thing to represent in a linear script, so I sent Erica two scripts: one where I laid out the entire comic (using stick figures, naturally, if anything) and another with actual polished dialogue in it. Then I colored different paths different colors, so it’d be clear which panels matched up across the two scripts. It sounds crazy (and maybe it is?) but it’s also the clearest way I could come up with to make a script understandable.
3: Ryan, this is your fourth time building a Choose Your Own Adventure-style comic. How do you start with something like this? What’s the scripting process like compared to a standard narrative issue.
North: It’s actually only my second choose-your-own-path comic (I did it in “Adventure Time” #10 once before!) but you’re right: it’s the fourth following “To Be or Not To Be” (my choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet) and “Romeo and/or Juliet” (my choose-your-own-path version of Romeo and Juliet that’s even better and is coming out June 9! Find out more at romeoandorjuliet.com… seriously do it you won’t regret it).
The scripting process is a lot of fun: basically I start at the beginning, and then instead of having to say “what if this happened?” I get to say “what if this happened… OR this happened?” and follow those two paths.
Structurally, the book’s designed to teach people how to read it as they go, so the first page (for example) has the choices meeting back at the same end point, no matter what you choose.Â It lets a reader see “Oh, okay, I get how these choices work” and figure that out before we throw them into the deep end of “the fate of the planet depends on what you choose next” — which absolutely does happen later on in the book.
4: You were both in the same room to work on the notes for this one. How important was it to be able to sit down together and work this one through?
Henderson: It’s hard to say. I mostly remember being accosted by a large fluffy dog.
Ryan did most of that since, as you just said, he’s pretty much an expert on this format by now. Being there to look at the notes with him (even if I didn’t start drawing until 3 months later) was helpful but I think we wound up going over it all online again because it had been so long and it worked out? So maybe being in person wasn’t more or less useful but I enjoyed Toronto so there’s that.
North: Being accosted by Chompsky is integral to my creative process and I like to share that experience. Integral.
5: How has your collaborative process changed across the two volumes of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl?” Have either of you changed the way you approach working together over time?
Henderson: I think we’ve worked together pretty well from the start. I’m more prone to throw ideas out there to see if they stick at this point in the game.
North: I think it’s also a matter of trust, of knowing the other person has your back.Â I’ve noticed Erica’s gotten more comfortable with adding/removing panels from my script when she lays it out, which is great, as her changes improve the script!Â I always look forward to seeing what she comes up with when I send over a script.
6: First seen in “The Champions,” Swarm is Marvel’s greatest villain. What made him the best fit for this issue as Doreen’s next opponent?
North: Okay, so the thing is: I had a Swarm action figure when I was a kid, and I had no idea who this guy was. He was this weird lumpy yellow guy with a purple cloak?â€¨
I must’ve gotten him second-hand from somewhere because he never had a box that would’ve, presumably, said what this guy’s deal is.Â Anyway, years later I found out about Swarm and I thought, “Oh, he was supposed to be made out of bees!Â That’s crazy.” and ever since then I’ve just loved that he is a bad guy who is made out of bees. It’s such a bonkers premise, but also, a really powerful one.Â He’s got the same “can summon many animals on his side” perk that Squirrel Girl has, and squirrels are just as vulnerable to bees as we are.Â So it seemed like a good match.â€¨â€¨Plus he’s a man made out of bees!Â How is that not amazing?
7: Erica, what’s it like to draw Swarm? Is it an absolute nightmare of millions of tiny bees?
Henderson: One of the benefits of the fact that we need more establishing shots was that Swarm could be far far far away and just look like a little orange man with no pants. The one extreme close up was terrible. Partly because I have a hard time with insects.
Fun fact: There are also insects in issue #8.
North: [Laughs] I didn’t know you have a hard time with insects, Erica!Â Whoops.
8: More immediately, Doreen met up with Howard the Duck for a crossover in March. Where did that idea come from and how does she end up in Howard’s orbit?
Henderson: The crossover was created partly because [“Howard the Duck” artist] Joe Quinones and I are friends who live in the same city, and Ryan and Chip [Zdarsky, the book’s writer] are friends (frenemies?) who live in the same city and we have the same editor. I think we each came up with the idea to do one separately. Joe and I were talking about it before the first page of “Howard” was even drawn.
North: Do all crossovers happen this way?Â I sure hope so.Â I want to live in a world where the Amalgam Universe happened because whoever was in charge of Marvel (Johnny Marvel?) and whoever is in charge of DC (Mr. DC?) — they’re best friends, obviously — got off at each other’s bus stops by mistake and went into the wrong corporate headquarters and just ran with it.
9: For those who haven’t read it yet, what should readers expect from the crossover? Puns? Mostly puns, right? How do you feel your style of humor for Squirrel Girl fits alongside Chip and Joe’s style?
Henderson: Yes to puns. As for the other question, I think the young hopeful character being shoved into the same life events as an old curmudgeon is a pretty reliable recipe for fun. Like “Up.”
Everyone has good feelings related to “Up,” right?
North: Our main goal was to ensure that Squirrel Girl and Howard would have a reason to fight when they first met (because of course they would!) and then have the Kra-Van show up, which is Kraven’s new airbrushed van.Â Those both happen in the first few pages, and from then it was wide open!â€¨â€¨For the writing, Chip and I outlined together, then we each wrote a single issue, swapped them, and revised the other’s script.Â So that way both of us could correct any mistakes Chip made as we went. It worked well!
10: Doreen has a lot going on in her life right now. What’s going through her head during these issues, both as a hero and in her civilian guise?
Henderson: Trying to juggle school and an almost full-time job is pretty hard — especially when that job pays nothing. Also, Doreen is loving that leggings are a thing right now because can you imagine jeans shopping when your butt to waist ratio is that extreme?
North: Welcome to my world, Erica. Only instead of butt-to-waist it’s leg-to-waist ratio. I am an extremely tall man who is pretty skinny and nobody makes jeans for me.
Also, I’m happy to redirect this comics interview toward how hard it is for me to find jeans that fit, because it’s really hard. FRIG.â€¨
11: What more can we expect from “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” over the next few months? Would you be open to more experimental issues like this one?
North: I love the idea of playing with the medium!Â Comics is such a great art form and you can do so many things in it that you can’t do anywhere else.Â So yeah, I wanna keep exploring it, keep doing neat things that are at home in the medium.Â The next few months we’re doing a story called “I kissed a squirrel and I like it” which I absolutely did not write just because of the title (but it helped).
12: And of course, we now know about your upcoming graphic novel, “Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe.” Will this be living up to that title? What’s coming up in the book, and how did it first come about as an idea?
North: Squirrel Girl is this incredibly powerful character, but who also always tries to find a compromise if she can — someone whose first instinct isn’t to punch her way out of a problem. So of course if a duplicate Squirrel Girl got made who has all these powers with none of the restraint, that’d be a credible threat not just to Squirrel Girl, but to, as we say, the entire Marvel Universe.
Henderson: Ryan and I knew the stakes had to go up if we’re doing a whole book and we’ve already dealt with Galactus — and I’m just not sure the Living Tribunal can carry 100 pages of story.
Sorry, Living Tribunal fans.
North: So to answer your question: yes, she is absolutely going to beat them up.Â We are 100% going to live up to that title.Â Actually, once we had the outline we considered a bunch of other titles before one of us said “Hey, why not just call this book what it is?” and that’s where the “Beats Up The Marvel Universe” bit came from.
“Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” #7 is scheduled for release April 27 from Marvel Comics.